Month: August 2016

Parshat Eikev • Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

We Jews are the “Chosen People”. This idea, and these words, might be used as either a moral imperative or an anti-semitic trope depending on who is speaking them. As such, I am a bit squeamish when I hear the phrase… and I suspect I am not alone. A redeeming explanation is provided by this week’s Torah portion, Eikev.

“For God, your God, is bringing you into a good land (Deuteronomy 8:7).” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, perhaps the founder of modern orthodox Judaism, writes: “Your training course of wandering in the wilderness has now come to an end. You are about to enter upon that future for which your anomalous situation on earth thus far was to be a preparation. Now, given a normal position as individuals and as a nation, you must demonstrate in practice the lessons which you should have learned during that singular training course, and which you must not forget if the future you are about to enter is to endure.” We wandered that we might learn. We learned that we might positively impact. We positively impact if we are to endure. Am Yisrael Chai — for that we are chosen.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Parshat V-etchanan • Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

The Power of Love

When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.
-Jimi Hendrix

The Seattle guitar-deity’s words reflect well the essence of this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. This parasha contains passages that form the cornerstone of our liturgy: Shema and Ve’ahavta. The Shema is the somewhat cryptic and deceptively terse affirmation of our faith in the one God: Adonai. But it is more than a self-directed meditation.The words compel each Jew to remind the other of God’s name and nature. To begin with the word "Shema/Listen" is to invite focus, heighten awareness and inspire action. This is followed immediately by the V’ahavta, an expression of the ways in which we show love for God, practical and tangible acts that render faith more a “walking the walk” than a “talking the talk.” And its proximity to Shema is pedagogically sound: the power of love can only be fully realized when we are keenly aware of the object of that love and our motivation to express it. More than even Jimi intended, true "Shalom", true wholeness, integration and peace will come only when the quest for love transcends the pursuit of power.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner

Parshat D’varim • Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

This weekend, traditional Jewish communities around the world recognize Tisha b’Av. It is a lesser-known day in our Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of both Temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively. It is also a day on which our sages believe all terrible things have befallen the Jewish people. It is, quite simply, the saddest, darkest day of our entire year.

During my first year of rabbinical school in Jerusalem, on erev Tisha b’Av I made my way to the Western Wall with some classmates. As we walked from our shabby limestone apartments in the Rehavia neighborhood down the hill, toward the walls of the Old City, we found ourselves swallowed up by a massive throng of people – hundreds of them, many dressed in dark wool. They were crying – no, not crying, wailing. And as we drew closer and closer to the Kotel, their cries grew louder and louder. When we finally reached the Western Wall we saw thousands of Jews acting as if their closest relative had just passed away. The words they chanted were from Eicha, or “Lamentations,” a collection of laments and prose that are some of the saddest, darkest, most haunting words you’ve ever heard. It was, for us modern Jews, a totally surreal sight.

It is not coincidental that we begin the book of Deuteronomy right around Tisha b’Av. Whereas this lesser-known Jewish holiday is all about remembering – and mourning – the past, Deuteronomy is a retelling of all that has befallen the people Israel from the beginning of the Torah onward. There is sanctity and beauty in this holy act of remembering: only through telling stories of the past are we able to look to our future. Mourning the destruction of the Temple – and all horrific things that have happened to our people – leads us to rejoice and celebrate the new year just over one month later at Rosh Hashanah. Looking back to the challenges and victories of Moses’ leadership in Deuteronomy, we understand the gravity of what we are about to do as we open with Joshua at the start of N’vi’im.

Together, Tisha b’Av and Deuteronomy remind us of the power of knowing our past. As we begin this new book of Torah, may it add depth and color to an understanding of ourselves and our people.

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen

Parshat Matot / Mas'ei • Numbers 30:2-36:13

“The Israelites set out from Rameses and encamped at Succoth. They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham. They set out from Etham and encamped at Migdol. They set out from Migdol…” This week’s Torah portion, Mattot-Ma’asei, feels as if a travel journal sponsored by AAA. The Israelites follow a circuitous TripTik laid out by God during their 40 years wandering in the desert, and this week’s portion recaps their journeys before entering the Promised Land.

This summer, many in our congregational family are off on journeys of their own. From exotic destinations abroad to day-trips in Washington State, everyone gets bitten by the travel bug during the days of summer. As our time on vacation begins to come to an end, it is common to wax nostalgic with favorite memories and stories before returning to the difficult work of catching up from vacation. The fun of sharing these memories becomes every bit as important as the events themselves — and often more informative. We learn from our mistakes, revel in our joys, and build upon our successes when we share these stories… just like our ancestors did so long ago.

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer